Bloomsday for Cab Drivers / 7: James Joyce
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Finnegans Wake, Book 1:3, p. 53, lines 7-13.

If you think Ulysses is tough sledding, try Finnegans Wake.

Finnegans Web (Trent University). Click here to view source.

Bloomsday for Cab Drivers / 7

James Joyce

For openers, here's some background to ensure that we're all on the same page.

James Joyce (1882-1941) is generally conceded by those in the know to be one of the literary giants of the twentieth century.

But he was no Barbara Cartland. The output on which his fame primarily rests amounts to just three novels: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses; and Finnegans Wake.

Portrait is fairly straightforward compared to the other two. Ulysses is readable in spots, while Finnegans Wake, to most of us, is written in a dialect of Martian.

The picture at left gives us a little taste of Finnegans Wake to put us in the proper frame of mind to appreciate the relative lucidity of Ulysses.

Here's what some of it (possibly) means:

The phrase "jauntyjogging, on an Irish visavis" may (or may not) refer to riding on a jaunting car. A "visavis" (French "vis--vis" = "face to face") is, among other things, a carriage in which the passenger seats face each other. "Irish visavis" might therefore be an example of Joycean irony since the seats on a jaunting car are back to back.

Jehu is a joking nickname for a cab driver, and "shoulder to shoulder Jehu" may refer to the fact that jaunting car drivers often sat "shoulder to shoulder" with a fare on a side seat in order to balance the passenger load.

The "copoll between the shafts" may refer to the horse harnessed between the shafts of the jaunting car, but what the word "copoll" means is anyone's guess. The "couple on the car" presumably refers to the passengers but how the copoll mocks them is hard to say, other than the fact that the most prominent part of horse from a passenger's point of view is its rear end. There's also the similarity between the words "copoll" and "couple" which suggests a pun or other connection.

And then there's the whip at the end of the quotation, which somehow seems to fit in with horse cab driving.

But trying too hard to figure out Finnegans Wake soon brings on the same kind of sick headache that you can get from a New Statesman crossword puzzle. So let's just move on.

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